Researchers from the University of Cincinnati examined the post-treatment journals kept by participants in a 2014 smoking cessation study that found psychedelics were effective in helping some people quit smoking for years.
In a new paper published in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, researchers analyzed the participants’ own words and found that psychedelics combined with talk therapy often helped longtime smokers see themselves as nonsmokers. This new core identity might help explain why 80% of participants were able to stop smoking for six months and 60% remained smoking-free after five years.
The 2014 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that participants who wanted to quit smoking and used psilocybin, the active hallucinogenic ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, combined with cognitive behavioral therapy were far more likely to succeed than those who try other traditional quit-smoking methods.
Lead author and University of Cincinnati postdoctoral researcher Neşe Devenot said the results demonstrate the potential psychedelics have to reshape self-perceptions to help people break free of old habits or addictions in the face of life’s daily triggers and temptations.
“We saw again and again that people had this feeling that they were done with smoking and that they were a nonsmoker now,” Devenot said.
She studies the science, history and culture of psychedelics in UC’s Institute for Research in Sensing.
New sense of self
Devenot said this new sense of self might help arm people against temptation or old triggers.
Albert Garcia-Romeu, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University, said psilocybin could serve as a catalyst to help motivate and inspire people to make a change with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Devenot said the experiment’s sample size was relatively small at just 15 participants. But the results are encouraging.
“I feel that I am somehow fundamentally different to yesterday,” one participant wrote. “I guess I feel like some sort of metamorphosis has taken place!”
Some participants said the treatment with psilocybin made quitting feel easy compared to past experiences. Another said the cravings for nicotine used to be unbearable. But during the dosing session, the participant was unable even to imagine craving a cigarette.
“The concept seems firmly cemented into my reality even today, that cravings are not something that are real,” one said.
How do psychedelics help with this transformation?
“It’s not that simple, but it’s a metaphor for how we talk about psychedelics,” Devenot said.
“Psychedelics have been compared to skiing in fresh snow,” she said. ” Neşe Devenot et al, Psychedelic Identity Shift: A Critical Approach to Set And Setting, Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal (2023). DOI: 10.1353/ken.2022.0022